Modelling writing skills

“Art is the overflow of emotion into action.”
– Attributed to Brian Raif

As my regular readers would be aware, I have been utilising a short burst of creative writing, called quick writing to provide my students a more engaging way of practicing their typing skills. The students have been overwhelmingly enjoying the time. I have been trying to find a way to make it a more rigorous learning opportunity and to encourage them to improve their creative writing as well as their typing.

I had begun to provide four images as options, to allow for those students who did not connect with the initial image that was provided, and this has helped a number of students engage with the process and enable them to write more than they had previously, and those students whom are more advanced writers have an opportunity to extend themselves, through the challenge of connecting two or more of the images. What I have been noticing with the writing that students have been doing is that although they are writing at length, their output is quite surface-level, with very little detail enabling the reader to visualise the scene they are writing about.

The engagement of the students has created a situation where I have been able to sit and join them in completing some creative writing, something which I have not done in a great while, and have missed. Yesterday I listened to a few of the students read their writing out, as I have been doing, and decided to model to them what I meant when I have been asking them to provide more detail in their writing, and read out a few paragraphs of what I had written.

Having done so, I asked the class if they could visualise the scene in their heads, and then we had a discussion about the use of language to paint a picture for the reader, and how the use of language can play a role in determining the interest level of the reader. The challenge was then put back onto the students to revise their writing, to use their language to paint a picture of the scene and the characters they were describing.

For a number of them, it was a light bulb moment, and they immediately dove back into their writing to improve it, and I hope that this segue will pay off in the long run with higher quality writing. The other challenge I laid down for them was to remove the boring words, such as said with more interesting vocabulary, and we had a brief discussion about how to find more interesting vocabulary.

Thank you for reading, as always, and I would like to hear from anyone about how you have encouraged students to make their writing more interesting and more visual, while removing the boring words.

Quick Writing

“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
– Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

I have tweeted a few times recently about doing an activity with students called quick writing. In this activity, students are told that they will have fifteen minutes to compose any text type they like; poem, recount, description, short story, introduction to a longer story etc., using the supplied image as the writing prompt. I have presented this task to students across years three to six thus far, and all students have enjoyed it, and engaged with it honestly and wholeheartedly.

I have been doing a fairly simple Google Image search, using writing stimulus year x, where x represents the year group of the students. The activity’s primary purpose is to stimulate creativity and encourage students to use their imagination, and students have, on the whole, engaged with the task at higher rates than I thought I would, and created, without prompting from myself, a silent classroom filled with the sound of pens scratching across the paper and the hum of the computer projector.

The other way that I have been utilising this task is to provide students with an opportunity to practice typing, by using either the school bank of laptops or their own tablet, and, again, all students have engaged honestly. I was concerned that students would spend time playing around with font types / colours / sizes but that proved to be unfounded as students dived right into the task.

I have included below two samples of the writing that have been composed in this fashion, both from year six students. Students have given their permission to put the writing online, and I would ask that, while reading these texts, that you remember that these are off-the-cuff compositions that have not been edited or proof-read at all.

Zmaya and Callum created the following compositions using this writing prompt.

This image was sourced from https://www.literacyshed.com/the-fantasy-shed.html on 39-07-2015
Image was sourced from https://www.literacyshed.com/the-fantasy-shed.html on 39-07-2015

The House by Zmaya
It all started the day I went home
When I saw a huge dome
I loved the look
so I went and took
The thing that it belonged
I was wrong
To do what I did
Now my house flew to a bridge
Then to a rock were I now live
I have a boat to go to school
I live near an island
I live on an island
In my house
I have a pet mouse
I love the view my sky high
I love my house you should to

Random Story by Callum
My mum bought a new house on the weekend and I went to have a look but I couldn’t get in because it was on top of a little island than I saw a person  in a little dark door way at the bottom of the mountain and there was a ladder on the bottom tide to a boat. They started waiving and it was my mum.

When she stopped waiving someone puled inside she started screaming so I was stupid enough to jump out of the boat and swim to her safety but I was to slow she was gone in a flash I was scared but l had to be brave to run after her. I herd her screaming but could not keep up with her.

Suddenly I has getting pulled back by something and I yelled whos there [time ran out here].

The other technique I have heard of being used is to provide a range of images and allow students to select three or four images to use to link together as part of their story. I would very much like to hear from anyone who has used this method, and hear how you have found it as a literacy tool.

Experimenting with Green Screen

I had a well thought out and well structured post all typed up, but a WordPress error caused it to disappear into the ether, despite having clicked on Save Draft, my post is nowhere to be found.

The short version of what I had typed is that after realising I needed to float over the top of my videos to allow more space to be used for whatever it is that I am showing, I ordered a green screen (chroma key) kit, which arrived a few days ago. Having today off provided me with an opportunity to experiment, and I have been playing around with it for a little while now and have put together a very short test video.

It is certainly not perfect, I need to work on getting the lighting right behind my torso to prevent the shadowing that occurred, but I am reasonably happy with it as a first effort.

I would love to hear from anyone who is using chroma key techniques in the classroom, and what obstacles you have come up against, and what strategies you have used to circumnavigate those obstacles.

Art

“A broad education in the arts helps give children a better understanding of their world…We need students who are culturally literate as well as math and science literate.”
–Attributed to Paul Ostergard, Vice President, Citicorp

As I believe I have previously written, Thursday is my day where I get thrown around class to class according to where extra relief is needed. I may say thrown around, but I do enjoy the variety, and often it is a nice break from my own program, as I often am asked to teach from the classroom teacher’s own program. It is a nice way to end my week, usually, and today was no exception.

Today started out with plans for navigating around the final day of NAPLAN, with my original timetable modified as a result of NAPLAN, but actually working out quite well. I had one particular class today, and it was the first time that I had had them for a decent block of time. I had them for an hour with the laptops, and then again later on for another hour in the school computer lab, and it was absolutely fantastic. We were able to achieve so much, and when I showed the class the spreadsheet with the achievement dates in it at the start of the second session, and showed them how much we had achieved, the students got quite excited and were quite well focused for the second session as well. Being open with the assessment strategy in this case, helped with the engagement levels.

My afternoon session was great, I had a year one class who has been learning about the weather, the different seasons, the types of weather that occur in the seasons etc, and today’s lesson was to do with rain. We spent the afternoon creating blue sponge-paintings as backgrounds for the crayoned umbrellas.I have not, up until now, done a painting session with any class, so it was quite the experience, however I was able to avoid getting any point on my clothes, and only a small amount on my hands. It was, however, a lot of fun, and the students were able to explain a fair bit to me about the weather, which demonstrates that the knowledge and the concepts of weather and their relationship to the seasons has been absorbed and retained.

As always, thank you for reading, and have a great weekend. I’m heading home now to start creating some more videos for my program (which I will be doing all day Friday and Saturday).